Thursday, December 4, 2008

Portland Mercury Article

One of the edgiest of the "Village Voice" newspapers in Portland, The Portland Mercury has written an article on Steve and the Anawim meeting in Gresham on Saturday. Here it is, in all it's glory. If you want to see the original, with the pic the author took of Steve, check it out here:

In the Shadows
Socks, Showers, and God
by Matt Davis

Steve Kimes is not your typical minister. When we first met last Saturday, November 29, with his fulsome beard and his casual felt hat, I almost mistook him for one of his congregation—90 percent of whom are homeless or mentally ill. No offense intended.

Kimes, along with his wife Diane, started the Anawim Christian Community in 1995, listening to the stories of the poor and disenfranchised in Portland and Gresham. They now run regular services at Anawim and at the Peace Mennonite Church on NE 196th and Glisan. And on Saturday mornings in Gresham, they run "shower ministry." I was in attendance on recent Saturday where roughly 30 people had shown up at 11 am for hot Spam, chicken soup, and pasta, a chance to exchange their dirty clothes for clean ones, and a free shower. Later, they would also pray—but we'll come to that.

One of the odder effects of a free clothing exchange is that people tend to wear things that fit them—not clothes that necessarily reflect their personalities or passions. The results can be disconcerting.

"I'm not a gun man at all," says Danno, a gentle old fellow wearing a Smith & Wesson T-shirt featuring a cobra coiled around a shotgun.

I see a man walk past in a Broncos hooded top, and someone else emerges from the shower wearing an Epcot Center jersey. I decide against football and Disney World as introductory topics of conversation.

"You're not a cop, are you?" asks Jimmy, who approaches with wary menace, wearing a baseball cap with the Confederate flag on it, and the word "Rebel" embroidered on the brim. Rather than ask Jimmy whether it's true or not, I decide to take his cap at its word and tread carefully.

"I'm a journalist," I say. "Here's my card."

After taking it to a far-off table and considering the card for a minute, Jimmy returns to shake my hand and apologize.

"I just feel wary about anybody sitting in the corner, taking notes," he says.

It's not surprising. From talking to others in the congregation, the general consensus seems to be that the cops in Gresham are less tolerant of the homeless than those in Portland. Jimmy estimates he's been "moved along" more than 100 times over the years, and says he's been told to go "anywhere on the other side of 162nd"— meaning, toward Portland—by a cop.

Apart from different attitudes toward law enforcement, there also seemed to be more of a sense of family, community, and self-sufficiency among the homeless I met in this unlikely church, east of the I-205, compared to the atmosphere at many of the homeless service providers I've been to in Portland. Kimes has undoubtedly worked hard on fostering this feeling.

"Jesus," I say, when Kimes tells me how many homeless people in recovery he's currently got living in his house. (Answer: More than a few, but Kimes would rather the total not wind up in print.) Then I realize I've blasphemed in his presence and apologize profusely, because the guy is dead serious about his God.

As I leave, Kimes is booming out a hymn called "Holy Is the Lord" with a heady baritone and no musical accompaniment, apart from the enthusiastic voices of his assorted congregation. Having admitted to me earlier that the work can involve battles with depression—Kimes has officiated a funeral for each of his 13 years, but only one wedding—I can't help but be impressed by his ability to continue with it, no matter what the motivation. And I'm not normally one for religious fervor, either—but in Kimes' case, it appears to be working.

Perhaps there's a Christian T-shirt in his exchange box, somewhere, for me.

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